Whenever you rehearse a hymn, even one of the new hymn rearrangements, you quickly get a sense of whether the vocalist grew up singing out of hymnbook or not. Probably half the musicians I work with know them and probably half don’t. It seems to manifest somewhat like an accent – you either have that native accent, or you don’t. You either hit those special queues that aren’t exactly notated, or you don’t.
What I’d like to suggest is that not having that native hymn accent is not necessarily a liability in creating an arrangement, and can even work to be an advantage. Yes, it does take a little extra investment to nail down certain notes that you need for it to “still be the hymn”, but once you have that, someone new to the hymns can bring something fresh, something immediate, something a little raw and unpolished but emotionally relevant.
I recently had this experience. A friend introduced me to Taylor Carson by way of this video, and I knew I wanted to try something with him. It took about six months for the timing to work out, but I eventually got him into the studio to sing “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” on a track I’d been experimenting with. Taylor didn’t grow up singing the hymns, but he was willing to put in a little extra work to get the essentials down as I heard them, and then was more than willing to put all his heart into a performance.
I absolutely love what we captured in the end. It felt fresh to me. It felt real. It felt raw. It felt so very honest. His take made me hear the hymn, and even the lyrics of the hymn, in a new way. Which is what I think we’re supposed to be doing with sacred music. (Psalm 33:3)
Please tell me what you think!